Technology: the strong arm of the law?

It’s a long time since the metal trade made the news with such regularity. From the tap-rooms in local pubs all the way up to the Houses of Parliament, the discussion around metal theft has never been so vociferous. Metal theft has become a national issue and Jason Fazackerley discusses how technology is leading the fight to combat it.

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Top 5 Technologies for Recycling & Sustainable Energy Companies in 2012

Out with the Old, in with the New

For many businesses, investment in new IT has been somewhat low on the list of essentials over the last year or two. Despite this, in the hi-tech world, the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Google have seen the pace of new developments increase further and faster than ever before. Jason Fazackerley takes a look at why many businesses now have an Top Technologies for 2012opportunity to take advantage of newer technologies. Can these technologies bring real commercial benefit and allow them to make 2012 a springboard to success? And if some IT budget becomes available, where should IT Directors and CIO’s spend it? Continue reading

IT Carbon Footprint & the Cloud

Most organisations in the UK recycling sector are focused on carbon reduction. Some already measure carbon usage, though often in a simplistic way. Waste producers are demanding more and more that their recycling partners can compete on minimising carbon usage as well as minimising prices against their competition. Here I provide an insight into the much publicised ‘Cloud’ to see how it can help recycling companies meet their sustainability objectives. Continue reading

Acquire or Acquired; having the right IT systems ensures you realise best value

Company A – The Acquired: You spend years building up your business; you make sacrifices, many of them personal as you put business before family, leisure and sometimes health. It is a familiar tale and when one decides that the time has come to sell-up you want, and deserve, to get the best value you can for your life’s work.
Company B – The Acquirer: You have a reputation for building businesses and your investors expect you to maximise the return on the money that they have entrusted in you. To really perform, you go down the acquisition route. You know there are plenty of businesses out there where owner managers are looking to exit (or stay on with a view to cashing in).

The conventional view for most acquisitions is that Company A wants to get as much cash as possible from Company B as a single up-front payment and with no tie-ins. Meanwhile B wants to give as little to A as they can get away with, but secure the transaction by applying all sorts of warranties and penalties on A if it goes belly-up. On the face of it, these are two completely opposing strategies, and have hitherto been reality for many acquisitions, often ending in neither party realising best value.

So, what has this got to do with IT systems? Well, firstly let’s consider the situation of company A: All too commonly, owner managers build businesses around themselves; they are the king-pin without which the company does not operate, or exist! Those companies rely on Mr or Mrs A to determine prices, agree contracts, authorise billing and sometimes even raise the invoices as they are the only people who know the prices to bill. They complete the month-end accounts and manage the costs. The owner is so embroiled in the business that they are able to manage it in their sleep. The sad thing is, if one day they didn’t wake up, the business would disintegrate very quickly. Investing in good business systems to manage and run the business is your life insurance whilst you own the business; good business systems replace the king-pin and mean that the business has true value with or without Mr or Mrs A. And once you have made that transition, you can choose to step back from the business a little or sell, realising true worth and minimising any hold the acquirer may have on you.

For the Acquirer, taking over a business where one can extract the owner manager is generally the most desired outcome – it means that company A becomes part of company B overnight, thus imparting values, systems, processes and controls immediately. If the acquired company does not have good business systems in place, and sometimes even if they do, being able to implement your systems quickly, and we’re talking weeks not months, can secure the investment by stamping your mark on that business. Immediately they have your processes, controls and you have full visibility of its performance, stress points, bottlenecks and capacity to negate cost across the expanded business. Good business systems, with a well thought out and proven roll-out plan, can make this happen. All that’s left is to change the sign over the door.

So, whether you are planning to be acquired, or whether you are the acquirer, good business systems will be a significant success factor in achieving true value.

5 key technologies that will have most impact on the recycling industry over the coming year

1) Virtualisation (also known as The Cloud!)

Virtualisation, incorporating Cloud Computing, will bring significant benefits to companies that need the flexibility to grow and/or contract their workforce whilst paying only for the software and services they use. This is suited to the dynamic businesses we see, particularly in the EfW arena. An additional and significant benefit is that this type of computing infrastructure can reduce the carbon footprint massively compared with traditional in-house environments with multiple servers and dedicated computer rooms.

2) E-business
We’ve seen consumers shift their buying habits from the high street to the web over the last decade, but many businesses fail to take full advantage of the e-business opportunities. More so than in many other industry sectors, recycling & waste management companies perform a substantial amount of their business transactions using contractors and other 3rd parties. This results in a huge number of human interactions (phone, email, post, fax) that could be automated using XML (an electronic instruction or document standard) based around agreed business rules. Removing the unnecessary overhead of repetitive tasks and deploying your information workers to perform value-add activities can increase your company’s performance hugely.

3) Unified Communications
Products such as Microsoft Exchange and Outlook have transformed the way we work. But with the addition of Microsoft Office Communication Server and Live Meeting you can bring instant messaging, presence information, Voice over IP and Video Conferencing to your business at very low cost. The ability to instantly respond, act and resolve takes away some of the frustrations of email overload. Live Meeting and the Video Conferencing that it supports is highly effective to organisations with staff working across multiple sites or from home. Again, this improves the pace at which an organisation operates and reduces cost (and carbon footprint) accordingly.

4) Solid State Drive
We have all experienced the benefits of memory sticks, SD cards etc. The development in solid state memory means that the days of the traditional spinning hard-drive are numbered. Solid State drives can be many times quicker than their moving predecessor resulting in faster running applications, and quicker analysis of data. In addition, they are now becoming quite affordable and therefore much more prevalent.

5) Green Computing
This is a huge area and a few hardware, software and systems integrators are taking the lead. Looking at the whole-life environmental impact of IT solutions is going to be as big to major IT vendors as the CO2/km measure is to motor manufacturers and consumers.

UK falls miles behind China in low-carbon energy race?

When faced with the issue of climate change, many of us try to do our bit. But we are all fairly certain that anything we can do as an individual pales into insignificance when compared to the efforts that an entire government can make. For many years, the biggest, baddest threat to climate change has been the rapidly developing industry of the new world and more specifically China.

Does it surprise you then that in fact (according to a table published by the US Pew Environment Group – China leads the world in investment in low carbon energy technology. Even more disturbing is that is shows the UK has slipped out of the top 10 thanks to the swingeing government austerity cuts.

Mind you, with the massive disparity in population between our nations, maybe this doesn’t represent such a great achievement for the Chinese and maybe it also highlights that there is still very much more they can do. However, it also shows quite starkly that the UK is dodging its responsibilities.

Renewable, low carbon energy is absolutely vital to the long term survival of our current way of life. The uprisings in the Middle East and Africa show just how little control we actually have world matters, particularly when it comes to those all important oil-producing nations. No one likes to say, but the general belief is that we have reached the point we are finding less oil than we are using and that means it IS going to run out. Failing to invest in viable (ie. Non-nuclear) alternatives is essential and the UK is lagging behind.

Extending ERP principles outside of the Enterprise

Some organisations in the UK’s waste and recycling sector have taken heed of the benefits enjoyed by many manufacturing and distribution companies by implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. An ERP system is a single software application that covers both financial and operational functions. The aspects of ERP are numerous, but the two that generally make ERP a must have for the 21st century business are Single point of entry and Single data repository for reporting. By having a single point of data entry a company removes duplication of effort and, often, increases the quality of data thus removing costly errors from core processes. This reduction in cost can be significant. Companies that do not have an ERP tool often rely on manual data shuffling and excessive use of Microsoft Excel. In a recent survey it was found that 87% of excel spreadsheets have errors in them – what cost does that have on a business? On the second point, one can only manage the performance of a business if you can report on it (accurately!). Having islands of data in various databases and spreadsheets can make reporting timely, difficult and prone to error. The quality of a manager can only be no better than the quality and accessibility of the information they have available to them.

So, that covers the principles of ERP in its simplest form. Few ERP solutions are available for waste and recycling companies, but Enwis), which is based on Microsoft Dynamics, is by far the most successful solution available. Hundreds of implementations across Europe have brought the benefits of ERP to recycling companies large and small. But once ERP is implemented, what can we gain further improvements in efficiency? Well, let’s consider a simple scenario: We operate a mid-sized recycling company and service our customers in many ways. We collect some waste streams ourselves, but sub-contract others to 3rd parties. Our ERP solution contains all the details of our customers contract, so that when they require a container emptying they telephone us, we enter the job onto the system and the software either allocates the job to our transport or creates a purchase order on one of our 3rd party contractors. As we’ve invested in a technically advanced solution, it sends that instruction automatically by email. Our contractor receives the email, manually enters the job into their system and completes the work. Or, we assume they complete the work. We don’t know this for a fact until the following month when we receive an invoice from them, hopefully advising us of the weight, grade etc. If they don’t complete the job, we find out when the customer complains. So, we get the weights, enter in to our system and raise an invoice, sometimes at the end of the following month. The issue this creates with cash-flow is one for another day.

Having discovered the benefits of ERP it appears that they are lost as soon as we start to use other organisations to perform our work, or perhaps we are the contractor. Either way, benefits are lost and duplication of effort, reporting and errors are issues for us once more.

XML (eXtendable mark-up language) has, if ask the techies, become a very common standard that can allow different system to talk to each other, passing documents or instructions freely. Now, if our customer sent us an electronic instruction using XML, and providing it met the criteria we have defined against their contract in our ERP solution, we would not need to manually enter the request. And if our 3rd party contractor had an XML enabled system (Which can include Microsoft Excel by the way) then they would not need to enter the job either. When they complete the job, the vehicle, driver or weighbridge operator would instruct their system of the work done and the confirmation, including weight, would be sent directly back into our ERP system without anyone lifting their mouse or hitting a key. So, we’ve taken ERP principles, reduced duplication of effort, improved response times and got our invoices out earlier and more accurately. This is how we can extend ERP beyond the our enterprise.

Sounds like rocket science? It isn’t. XML has been part of Microsoft Dynamics and Office products for half a decade or more. Taking advantage of them is just a matter of mindset.